Self-regulation is often mentioned these days in mindfulness related contexts.
What does it mean?
For me, it means to go off auto-pilot, to intentionally do something different than our habitual response. These habitual responses are often rooted in wounding, trauma, identifications, and painful beliefs, and the outcome of these responses tend to reflect their origin. (Acting on pain and wounding tends to create more pain and wounding.)
How do we self-regulate?
We self-regulate by noticing what’s happening in us, by noticing any reactions, contractions, emotions and so on that come up. Then, by relating to it intentionally. Often with presence, kindness, love, patience, holding/noticing space, and so on. This helps the old habitual responses lose their steam, and it creates a new pattern. It’s the seed of a new habitual response.
Example #1 – hurt & left out. Say a feeling of hurt and being left out comes up. My habitual response may be to eat comfort food, watch a movie, talk with a friend, distract myself in any number of ways. In this case, none of these are terrible, but they also don’t help me shift how I relate to this hurt and feeling of being left out. These parts of me remain unloved, unfelt, unexamined.
When I instead meet them with presence, kindness, love, and curiosity, it not only shifts the habitual response (reducing the charge of the old response and creating a new), these parts of me receive what they really want which is presence, love, patience, and understanding.
Example #2 – TRE. Another example is self-regulation in TRE (Tension & Trauma Release Exercises). Here, the body’s natural trembling/releasing mechanism releases tension, which in turn may trigger old memories and traumas. Self-regulation again means presence, kindness, and curiosity. And this takes the form of noticing and allowing sensations and imaginations, doing TRE for quite short periods so less is released at a time and there is less chance of overwhelm (and re-traumatizing), and taking a break as soon as we notice discomfort and signs of overwhelm (stretch out the legs, walk around, drink some water, talk with someone, squeeze someone’s hand etc.).
Example #3 – anger. Another example is when I get frustrated, worked up, or angry. I notice. Recognize what’s happening. And may do any number of things to help self-regulate: Recognize that behind the anger and frustration is fear. Jump up and down and shake my arms and hands. Breathe deeply and consciously. Go for a walk. Amplify and release. (Amplify the anger and frustration for 10 seconds, release, let go, and breathe for 10 seconds, repeat a few times.) Identify and feel the physical sensations, setting imagination (mental images, words) aside for a while. Do EFT/TFT tapping. After I feel more present again, I can more easily see what the kind and sane response to the (previously triggering) situation is and do that – or do nothing if that seems more appropriate.